PJI Warns Community College Officials Not to Stifle Free Speech

Alameda, CA – Attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute are warning community college officials in the East Bay Area of legal action if those officials continue to stifle a faculty member’s free speech.

The Peralta Community College District recently conducted a four-month investigation of a tenured instructor at the College of Alameda sparked by a letter he wrote to the editor of a local newspaper, the Alameda Journal. The faculty member was questioning budget priorities and the appearance of nepotism related to the College’s announced plans for a new degree in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies. When his letter was published, an irate co-worker confronted him and then filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment—all stemming from the letter. After investigating the instructor for four months, college officials realized they could not discipline him but warned him not to discuss the investigation with anyone but his legal counsel.

He turned to Pacific Justice Institute, whose lawyers are now representing him. “It’s outrageous that it took months for these administrators to recognize a basic First Amendment right,” said PJI Staff Attorney Matthew McReynolds, who sent a letter yesterday to Peralta officials. “Writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper on a matter of public concern is unquestionably free speech. These officials’ willingness to cast a baseless pall of suspicion over this faculty member for months smacks of not-so-subtle pressure to self-censor. He will not be silenced so easily.”

PJI President Brad Dacus noted, “At a time when our community colleges are cutting back and students are struggling to get into core classes, it is inexplicable that the College of Alameda would propose perting resources to a program that was focused more on political activism than academic inquiry. We applaud his willingness to speak out and are committed to protecting his right to do so.”

This is not the first time the College of Alameda has come under fire for restricting free speech. Less than five years ago, PJI filed a federal lawsuit against the College on behalf of two students who were suspended and threatened with expulsion for praying on campus. After a federal judge ruled against the College in its attempts to dismiss the case, it was settled favorably to the plaintiffs.

Pacific Justice Institute is a non-profit legal organization dedicated to defending religious, parental, and other constitutional rights.

P.O. Box 276600 Sacramento, CA 95827-6600
Phone: (916) 857-6900 Fax: (916) 857-6902